The role of a projection designer has always, and still is, an evolving concept in my mind. I guess it's to the extent that the word "design" is used when describing what's required for the job. In college I was really the only person with a real desire to pursue projections design. Therefore in the shows I worked on I was the designer, content creator, programmer, and often hung my own projectors as well. To me this was all part of the responsibilities of the designer; to "design" the content yourself, (aka build it yourself), to "design" the way the show ran and looked through programming, and foremost, to "design" what the projections will look like on stage and how they'll interact with the other visual elements. While there's nothing wrong with this style and indeed this is still how I work 90% of the time when I'm hired as the projection designer, I'm learning that viewing the other parts as something to be "designed" may not be always accurate.
Recently I worked as the programmer for a fantastically talented projections designer. It had been a while since I'd worked as a programmer especially at the level that was expected of me so I was a bit concerned. At the start of the process things went smoothly enough and if I had frustrations they were mainly aimed at myself for not being fast enough. But as we went on I started to become frustrated with the designer and his ideas. Before tech began we were both at an understanding of the technical "difficulties" presented in programming the show the way we had agreed upon. Yet as we got deeper and deeper into the show he began asking for more and more complicated changes and ideas. I was so confused why he was asking me to do things that he complete understood and would be hard to accomplish, especially in the limited time that a tech always entails. I hunkered down, did my best and surprised myself by making it through. It wasn't really till the first run-through that it really dawned on me, those ideas and difficult programmatic request bright the entire design of the projections to another level. It was the fact that he was not thinking in the way of "how could someone quickly and easily program this" but the central question that every designer should always be thinking; HOW CAN I MAKE MY CONTRIBUTION TO THIS SHOW BE THE ABSOLUTE BEST IT CAN BE?
I suppose what I've really learned is that the design of the show must always come first. I used to have a saying I'd use in college when people were asking for projections; "I don't know what I can't do!" Recently I'd sort of dismissed that as being foolhardy but I think as a designer it's our responsibility to lead with near-blind ambition and to trust our collaborators, or in many cases, your future self to come up with a solution.